My mom and dad surprised me with a Kindle Fire this Christmas. It was a gift I secretly wanted but did not want to ask anyone for as I knew it cost quite a bit of money. I was super surprised when I opened it up Christmas morning at my parents house and I could tell my parents were so excited to see me so excited about my gift! It truly has been a gift I have used everyday and I am amazed at how many free Christian books I can download everyday on Amazon!
One of these books was Never Alone Again by John Featherston. This non-fiction autobiography was too good not to share. I even got Bennett’s interest peaked and he just finished reading it as well. The basic premise of the book is about a pastor of a very conservative church who falls into drug addiction. He receives the treatment he needs, but the elders of the church kick him out of the church anyway. Right off the bat I admire the man because he never once names the church or even the denomination of the church that kicked him out-or once spoke poorly of them. The book goes on to show how God restored him and his ministry and he is now pastoring a church called “Serenity Church” which is geared toward those who struggle with addictions and modeled after the 12 steps. There is SO much more to the story, but below I will tell some of my favorite quotes and what stood out to me.
The second chapter he is on his way to his first AA meeting, in his suit as he is working at the church office that day (the church did not yet know of his addiction at this point). As he headed into the meeting, he noticed the various demographic and cultural variety of people within the room. At first he was uncomfortable, but then person after person began sharing their stories and one man in particular described as a ‘yuppie’ was telling his story of his wife leaving him and his strong desire to use but then he called his AA sponsor, scary-looking-Harley buddy Bob. Bob came over to his home, sat with him all night long, prayed with him and cried with him so he wouldn’t use.
“Suddenly, I (John) understood Bob and the yuppie. This was something I’d been looking for my whole life and hadn’t even know how to ask for. I was born on a Sunday and was in church the next Sunday. I had been taught and trained at two Christian universities and a seminary. I was 34 years old and the Senior Pastor for one of the largest churches of my denomination in the world. I was witnessing ‘church’ for the first time in my life. These were the people who would save my life, rewrite my theology, and change me forever”. (pg. 7)
By the second chapter I was drawn in. Life is messy. But THIS is how church is done. Bearing each others burdens. Living in the light, not in the darkness.
In chapter Nine of the book, John tells the story of how AA groups came into existence. It all started with God bringing together two men. One a current alcoholic and one a recovering alcoholic and them bearing each others burdens. An amazing story and one I never knew, but too long to type out here so read the book!
Several chapters later, after he is kicked out and he starts to pastor again another church of the same denomination (after he himself has gone through treatment and has gotten some recovery time under his belt). Many of his friends from the AA meetings come to his church but he realizes that there is a disconnect in a way. “It’s not the job of the ‘lost’ to adapt to, and learn the language of, the ‘found’. It’s our job to speak Christ in their language. To come to them where they are.” (pg. 112) He prayed about starting two services so that he could speak the ‘language’ to his traditional congregation and then another service to speak the ‘language’ to the recovering addicts. I loved this concept and it opened my eyes to a whole new way to look at this. I guess I had (wrongly so) been almost a bit judgmental when churches had two different type of services (traditional/contempary) – almost as if they weren’t unified. But just as Jesus has made Bennett and me with very different love languages, perhaps this is the same.
Here are some of John’s points:
-Expecting them (the recovering community) to adapt to us, to wade through our traditions and eccentricities, to find Christ wasn’t working and wasn’t right. (Phil. 3:4-7) (pg. 137)
–It was equally wrong to stop ministering to our established congregation in the way that they hear, speak, are touched, and understand. The only way to truly reach both is to provide two times, to venues, for fellowship and worship where each “language” is heard and understood. (pg 138)
I understand to some people this can be portrayed as not taking a strong ‘stand’ one way or the other- but John felt passionate about both. Eventually pastoring both became to much for him but God provided the staff so that he could be freed up to focus more on the recovering community but this segment of the book opened up my eyes that what ministers to me isn’t the one and only way and that’s okay as long as it aligns with scripture.
I also liked his ‘movement’ vs. ‘monument’ concept. “We constantly face the classic choice- are we a ‘movement’ or a ‘monument’? A monument is all about holding on to where we come from. Monument churches carefully tend ‘membership rosters’, build walls, and carefully hold what ‘belongs’ to them. There’s not even a whisper of a suggestion of our fiercely defended ‘local church membership’ principle in Scripture. Christ’s followers are by definition a movement…coming together to recharge and encourage each other…and then spreading out wherever He needs us to reproduce what He’s done for us.” (pg. 153)
The author is so respectful throughout the book. Like I said previously, he never bashes the elders that kicked him out of his church- even though he completed treatment and asked for forgiveness. He doesn’t even say what denomination he is from. He even says of his new church: “We’re not for everybody. Serenity Church is a very unique fellowship, given a very specific mission, to speak Christ to a very specific culture, in the language they speak and understand.” (pg. 184) This guy truly gets the we are all of One Body and that we each have a role. We aren’t competing as churches- we are in this together. I know it has challenged Bennett and me to pray and ask God what our ‘language’ is- both in receiving and speaking.
There is so much more in this book to read and be encouraged by- that God can use you in BIG ways even if you feel you have too far gone. I am so encouraged when I read stories such as these- because I know the story God is crafting of my life has its purpose. The tears and the pain, and the laughter and the joy. I can say today- I am grateful.